Following a successful Pledge campaign The Empty Page are set to release their debut album, Unfolding, tomorrow (Friday 21 October). Louder Than War editor Sarah Lay catches up with the alt-rock three piece on releasing their first album only a year after getting together, being influenced by ’90s guitar bands and working with producer Gggarth Richardson.
“Riot Grrrl itself as a movement, a vital as it was, didn’t inspire me to pick up a guitar. I picked up a guitar because it was the natural progression from singing which I had done since I could speak.”
Kel, bassist and vocalist with Manchester’s The Empty Page, is reflecting on the band’s influences. Forming last year their debut album is set to be released tomorrow and the band have been drawing comparisons to doyen’s of ’90s alt-rock and Riot Grrrl including Fugazi, Bikini Kill and Hole. The band themselves say they’re about ‘fuzz pedals, bruised melodies, loud quiet loud’ furthering the throwing out of names like Pixies. Kel takes it in her stride but says the way they came to those influences may not be as straight forward as first assumed: “I was into alternative music early as I had older brothers one of whom was into heavy metal like Sabbath and Motorhead and the other who was into jangly, angsty indie like The Smiths and The Cure.
“Courtney Love was definitely a huge influence though, she was one of the first women I really adored because she just didn’t give a fuck. I saw Hole live a couple of times and they definitely left a big mark on me musically and attitude-wise. Later I discovered other female-led bands like Babes in Toyland, Veruca Salt and Bikini Kill and they were definitely singing about things I could relate to and making just very cool music regardless of gender.
“This band is certainly influenced by a lot of bands with a female presence but I think the key is that in the ’90s rock scene there was a bit of a backlash against testosterone fuelled rockstar posturing with bands like Nirvana, The Lemonheads and the Pixies all providing an alternative to that. I think more women should play music, because there is still a heavy trend towards males on stage at gigs, but more importantly women should just be able to do it without having to be scrutinised so much in every way.”
With a name taken from a Sonic Youth lyric the ’90s connection seems strong in more than just the sound of the music but Kel is wary of being compared too strongly, “We never set out to name ourselves after a Sonic Youth song. It’s always hard to come up with a band name, we happened to be listening to them and the phrase ‘the empty page’ seemed fitting as this was a brand new thing for us with lots of possibility. I love Sonic Youth but I think they’re pretty untouchable and wouldn’t dare to compare us!”
Guitarist Giz agrees, “I really love Sonic Youth and I think they have been a pretty big influence on me as a musician, and they have definitely influenced this band but amongst so many other bands. I think we have our own sound which comes from really eclectic influences.”
Right now he says he is listening to the new Dinosaur Jr album lots and that ‘Cheatahs are one of my favourite recent bands, Mythologies is a great album.” Kel says her own current listening is taking in a lot of Joni Mitchell, Nico and Carol King. Drummer Jim enthuses about the music he is loving right now, “The latest Eagulls album is constantly on, as is Deftones most recent one. I love False Advertising too and the new Hyena Kill album is filthy!”
The band got together in 2015 having been friends and crossed paths in other projects for a while. Originally getting together to jam out covers and have a bit of fun they quickly found the songs they were jamming were influencing original material. Giz said, “I don’t think we intentionally did things quickly, we just wrote a bunch of songs which we liked and we knew we wanted to make an album as soon as we had those songs so we did!”
Kel picks up, “I’ve always admired bands and artists that are very prolific, and I write lyrics constantly but in previous bands there have always been setbacks which slowed us down and it frustrated me. We seem to write really easily together, the three of us in this band, so it came together quickly and we just didn’t see any point messing about. I like to get things done while the ideas are still raw and fresh.”
Of the typical writing process the band go through Jim says, “We’ll jam around an idea that Giz has been working on and go from there. We’re very much aware of each other’s style so writing and jamming is very organic and it’s definitely collaborative. We’re all honest and passionate about what we do too. If something works it really works and we’ll play it again and again.”
Kel elaborates, saying, “Yeah the seed is usually planted by Giz, he spends a lot of time playing guitar and he brings ideas to the room and we go from there. The music is usually put together by just jamming it out and adjusting it til we’re all happy and I sometimes sing bits of melody but I usually go away with room recordings and spend some time listening to them before the words come. Sometimes I have something already written which fits like a glove, which is brilliant, other times I write from scratch because the music gives me a lyrical idea, and sometimes it’s somewhere in the middle.”
Lyrically Kel says that the process often leads to self-discovery and that she couldn’t limit herself to writing only the typical boy/girl love song, “I don’t necessarily stop myself from writing love songs but I usually have other things gnawing away at me which are much more interesting to write about. Yes, I have bus tickets with phrases written on and countless notebooks. I read things in the news, in novels, overhear conversations on the train, philosophise with mates, even just scrolling on Facebook; words and phrases catch my eye and I write everything down if I possibly can.
“I’m probably as baffled by the creative process as anyone, it just all comes together from that mish mash of ideas. Sometimes a whole song will come pouring out, sometimes with melody attached, sometimes just rhythm. Sometimes I write a whole song around one phrase which forms the chorus. I have a million lyrics that haven’t been used yet too!”
When it came to getting the tracks down for the record the band looked to producer Gggarth Richardson (Rage Against the Machine, The Melvins, Biffy Clyro) to help them capture the right sound. Kel said, “We had recorded with producers in previous bands. We’d resisted for a long time actually but once we worked with a producer we realised that it’s very useful to have another set of ears with a vision in mind, who can help you to get what you really want sonically. It’s harder than you would think to capture the essence of a band on record!”
Giz picks up, “We sent Garth the demo for the track Deeply Unlovable and he liked it so we arranged a Skype chat. We got on really well and felt that we were coming from the same place with the idea of going old school and recording more or less ‘live’ to capture the feel of the songs. He’s obviously produced a bunch of our favourite albums and he was the first person we thought of to make the record, we didn’t think we’d even get a reply. We recorded this album in Canada at Garth’s home studio in the middle of a massive forest. It was a great experience, we could just get in there and knuckle down on making the record.”
Kel continues on the recording of the album, “We were pretty cut off from any distractions and we woke up and started work as soon as we’d had a brew in the morning and worked til late every day. Garth and his team really put the hours in, they were amazing. Garth was very respectful of our music and didn’t try to shape or change what we do really, but he did offer constructive criticism and advice, some of which we took on board, some we didn’t! Of course, he’s got a wealth of experience so he’d be like ‘I used this on the Rage record, I think it’ll be the perfect sound’ and we were like ‘whoa!'”
Jim is also enthusiastic about what the producer brought to their debut, “Garth has this really calm demeanour that was essential to the record. He knew we’d have the album done and he knew it’d sound amazing. We’d be panicking on day six that certain bits weren’t recorded or this song wasn’t finished and he kept reassuring us by saying ‘Do I looked stressed? I’ve been doing this a long time now and I kinda know what I’m doing’.”
While working with a producer for the record the band otherwise find themselves taking on much themselves, working with a DIY approach to their music. Giz said, “I wouldn’t necessarily define us as a DIY band because it’s not our entire mantra to never have outside help or anything but we have always just done it that way because we don’t wait around for anyone else to make things happen for us.”
Kel muses there are pros and cons to being very hands on, “That said, there is an incredible amount of satisfaction to be had from knowing you did all or most of the work independently. I even painted the album artwork for this album, having never painted before, just because I knew what I wanted it to look like and had a go, I think it turned out pretty cool.
“Some days it feels like you just can’t cope though, I’m studying at the moment as well as working and have been booking shows, getting the artwork and t-shirts ready for manufacturing, dealing with the manufacturers, distributors, keeping up with social media promo and some days you feel like you don’t stop. We enlisted a press agent for this record who has done a really great job and made our lives that bit easier but there is still so much work involved which I don’t think a lot of people realise.”
When you’re doing things for yourself the wider community often becomes an important part. Giz is positive about the approach but more hesitant about pin-pointing a network they have found themselves a part of, “There are a lot of bands that we meet and play with and generally everyone is pretty cool and supportive of each other, although I don’t really feel like there is a DIY movement that we are a part of. Maybe it’s out there but we’ve not found that fully formed community yet. It’s definitely important for bands to help each other out and support each other as much as possible.”
Kel is definite on this too, “Yes and that starts with at least staying to watch some of the other bands you are playing with and not just arriving before you go on and leaving immediately after you play. Sometimes it has to be done, but I think on the whole that’s the first step to creating a supportive community.
“I dream of it being like the early days of hardcore where there really was a movement and a network outside the music biz as an act of rebellion and community. I don’t think it’s quite there at the moment but maybe I’m missing something! We could all probably do more to be fair, we try our best! Also we don’t quite fit into any particular scene, we’re welcomed by punk, indie, rock promoters etc so in a way that’s even better.”
The band are playing live dates at the moment and Jim says, “The songs live are like the record but with everything turned up; energy, passion, aggression, volume. It’s still focused and dynamic but we absolutely throw everything we’ve got into each song. If a string breaks or a stick snaps or something goes wrong then it’s part of the moment and we play through it. We’re not a meticulous band with billions of effects and backing tracks and what have you. It’s just us three playing the fuck out of music we love.”
Kel adds, “and Jim’s onstage weirdness is…. an experience! My favourite venues are smelly, covered in posters and stickers, and full of sweaty music lovers, which is good cos that’s where we mostly find ourselves!”
The album will be released to Pledgers on Friday 21 October and available digitally, and on CD and limited heavyweight coloured vinyl via the band’s Bandcamp page. You can find the band on Twitter and Facebook.
Catch the band live:
- 20 October – Lady Luck, Canterbury
- 21 October – Some Weird Sin @ Nambucca, London
- 23 October – The Gwdihw café, Cardiff
- 26 October – Bannerman’s, Edinburgh
- 27 October – Monty’s, Dunfermline.
Interview by Sarah Lay. Sarah is editor at Louder Than War. You can find her on Twitter or read more from her in her author archive here. She is executive producer of The Rumble on Radio Andra and provides Louder Than War’s recommended track of the week on the show. Tune in Tuesdays from 8pm or listen again here.